ATHENS (AFP) – A Greek prosecutor on Tuesday ordered the conditional release of two suspects found in possession of a 17th-century oil sketch attributed to Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, a justice source said.
The suspects, a 40-year-old television show host and a 65-year-old former antiquarian, were released with travel bans as Belgian art authorities have yet to file a claim for the painting, the source told AFP.
Prosecutors have filed money-laundering charges against the pair.
The Greek culture ministry has kept information on the case to a trickle since announcing the artwork’s discovery on Thursday. No image of the seized painting has been officially released and its presentation has been pending for days, fueling debate as to whether it was actually painted by Rubens or by one of his followers.
On Monday, the ministry identified the painting as The Calydonian Boar Hunt by Rubens himself, adding that its conclusion was based on “evidence on the artwork following cooperation with Belgian authorities.”
The Fine Arts Museum of Ghent in Belgium’s Flemish north, from where the painting was snatched in 2001, has noted that The Calydonian Boar Hunt, is now attributed to one of Rubens’s followers.
The 65-year-old man and 40-year-old woman were caught by police officers posing as potential buyers. They both deny any link to the theft.
The woman from Rhodes said she was offered the work by an Italian lover in 2003 who said it was a copy, while the ex-dealer said he too was unaware of the painting’s history.
The Ghent museum was the victim of a robbery in 2001 when thieves grabbed two paintings.
On their way out, the robbers dropped one of the artworks, The Flagellation of Christ, but ran away with The Calydonian Boar Hunt.
While the dropped painting is a genuine Rubens, the museum said the other piece was probably copied by one of the painter’s assistants from the original oil sketch, which is now in a private collection.
At the time of the theft it was worth an estimated 200,000 euros ($283,000).
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